A sobering reality

Bill passes outlawing DUI checkpoints in North Dakota

MEDIADEFENSE.GOV | PHOTO COURTESY DUI checkpoints are necessary, especially in North Dakota.

If you have been doing your due diligence as a resident of the state of North Dakota, you’ve undoubtedly been following the 66th Legislative Assembly. Good for you, patriot. If you haven’t been keeping up to date on it, I’d ask that you put aside your newfound sense of shame for being called out by an opinion writer and consider a piece of legislation.

House Bill 1442 passed the North Dakota House of Representatives Feb. 12 and, at the time of this writing, is currently waiting on a vote from the Senate. This bill, if passed, would essentially outlaw the use of DUI checkpoints in the state of North Dakota. North Dakota also has the highest rate of death in crashes involving a driver above the legal limit of intoxication, according to information put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I think that alone warrants a discussion on the issue.

This bill, if passed, would essentially outlaw the use of DUI checkpoints in the state of North Dakota. 

Now, obviously the push to eliminate DUI checkpoints isn’t coming from some pro-drunk driving advocacy group. This is coming from people who have concerns over the legal gray area that the tactic of these checkpoints reside in. Checkpoints have been around since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the 1990 case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that the Supreme Court weighed in on the legality of the issue. In most cases, an officer needs reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. While that is a much lower standard than probable cause, it is still a standard that must be reached. A DUI checkpoint doesn’t use this level of discretion, but still stops vehicles, which is considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court decided the state’s need to stop drunk driving outweighed the small infringement of the individual’s right against unreasonable seizures.

If that justification doesn’t sit well with you, you’re not alone. So far 10 states, including Minnesota, have outlawed DUI checkpoints. The problem with these stops is that the officer obviously won’t quit if an unrelated suspicion arises from this stop.

For example, let’s say it’s a Saturday night and you decide you want to take you and your several illicit fire arms and marijuana plants out on a long midnight drive. I’m not here to judge; what you do on your Saturdays is your business. However, if you accidentally find yourself caught up in the middle of a DUI checkpoint, the officer isn’t going to kindly point you toward the Driving with Illicit Fire Arms and Drugs checkpoint on the next street over. You’re getting arrested. These stops allow for a bypass of the Fourth Amendment, something meant for the protection of individual rights.

So, now that the problem of drunk driving has been established, how effective are these DUI checkpoints to curtail it? 

Is this trade off of individual liberties worth it? I believe in order to answer that, you would need to look into two factors: the scope of the issue and the effectiveness DUI checkpoints are as a counteractive. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, North Dakota ranked highest in deaths from accidents involving a driver over the legal limit. The CDC also reports North Dakota for having some of the highest per capita consumption rates of alcohol in the nation, highest percentage of adults who report driving after drinking too much and the third highest rate of minors getting intoxicated.

When facing a problem of this magnitude, I would usually recommend having a drink to take the edge off of it, but that kind of thinking is exactly what got our state into this problem. As the great philosopher Homer Simpson once said, “To alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

So, now that the problem of drunk driving has been established, how effective are these DUI checkpoints to curtail it? The answer depends entirely on who you ask. Those against checkpoints will point out they require a lot of manpower to operate. With cities like Fargo struggling to find new officers, this poses a bit of a logistics problem in running effective DUI checkpoints. Another argument used against these checkpoints would be that because the checkpoints are announced ahead of time, those under the influence will simply find a new route.

Those who are for the checkpoints would point out the deterrence these checkpoints provide simply cannot be measured. How many countless drivers have rethought the decision to drink and drive after seeing an announcement for a DUI checkpoint?

The issue of DUI checkpoints showcases the clash between individual liberties and the rule of law. The Bill of Rights was meant to be a protection of individual freedom, but sometimes individuals need protection from their own idiocy. The relevance of this particular issue may fade if HB 1442 is passed and local law enforcement switch over to other tactics to fight drunk driving, such as roving sobriety patrols, but the issue underlying it, that of the individual versus the state, should be at the forefront of every citizen’s mind.  

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